Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for June 17, 2022

Newsline: Israeli Embassy warns that Iran is smuggling weapons on flights to Argentina

The Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, issued a rare statement in which it expressed growing concern about the activities of Iranian airlines throughout Latin America. “Israel is particularly concerned about the activities of Mahan Air and Fars Air Qeshm, which are used by Iran to transfer weapons and equipment for the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards, which is under US sanctions,” the Embassy said in a statement. According to the statement, there is an ongoing attempt by the Islamic Republic of Iran, through the Quds Force and the Revolutionary Guards, to try to establish its influence around the world in general and in South America in particular. “All of this joins evidence of Iranian activity in Latin America that includes attempted kidnapping and murder of Israeli civilians by criminal organizations that are mercenaries of the Quds Force in Colombia.” (https://www.israelnationalnews.com/news/355056) The Embassy’s statement was issued in response to the stopping of a commercial flight and the arrest of eight Iranian crew members on Argentine soil, after they were suspected of using a plane of a Venezuelan airline that was used in the past by an Iranian company to transport manpower and weapons to terrorist organizations across the Middle East.

Newsline: Russia jails former US embassy worker for smuggling drugs

A Moscow court has sentenced a former US embassy employee to 14 years in prison in a maximum security facility for “large-scale” cannabis smuggling and illegal storage of drugs without a commercial purpose. “The American citizen [Marc] Fogel has been found guilty,” the Khimki court said in a statement late on Thursday. Fogel is the latest American to be caught up in Russia’s legal system. The sentence comes as relations between Moscow and the West, particularly Washington, are tense after Moscow invaded Ukraine. Russian authorities in January said Fogel had been arrested by customs officers in August 2021 after arriving from New York with his wife at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow. “During customs checks, the marijuana and hash oil were found in his luggage,” officials said, adding that the drugs were hidden in contact lens cases and e-cigarette cartridges. (https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/russia-jails-former-us-embassy-worker-for-smuggling-drugs/) At the time of his arrest, Fogel was working as a teacher in the Anglo-American School of Moscow but benefitted from diplomatic immunity until May 2021 due to his previous employment at the US embassy. He insisted the cannabis was for medical purposes and that it was prescribed in the United States after a spinal operation. Russia has not made the use of cannabis legal for medicinal purposes. Several Americans are currently detained in Russian prisons, and vice versa.

Newsline: Guards who protected British embassy from Taliban attacks still stranded in Afghanistan

More than 150 guards who protected the British embassy from Taliban attacks are still stranded in Afghanistan months after they were promised refuge in the UK. Several of the men who worked for a security contractor company said they had been beaten and intimidated by the Taliban because of their former job guarding British diplomats. More than 100 guards who worked for GardaWorld, a security company, remain in the country 10 months after the Taliban re-took power, the BBC reported. (https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/uknews/guards-who-protected-british-embassy-from-taliban-attacks-still-stranded-in-afghanistan/) The Government promised it would evacuate the guards last August, as UK troops tried to airlift thousands of former interpreters, local staff and their relatives out of the airport. The guards were left behind and some have accused the Government of betraying them. Earlier this week, the Government said the former guards would be able to apply to come to the UK from next week, as part of its Afghan citizens resettlement scheme (ACRS). The scheme is meant to give refuge to those who assisted UK efforts in Afghanistan.

Newsline: Top Australian diplomat visits Solomons to address security concerns

Australia’s foreign minister landed Friday in Solomon Islands to address relations frayed by the Pacific nation’s cosy ties and recent security pact with China. (https://www.msn.com/en-nz/news/world/top-australian-diplomat-visits-solomons-to-address-security-concerns/ar-AAYzfRK) It is the latest stop in a South Pacific travel blitz by Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who is seeking to shore up regional ties against China’s growing sway. It marks the first visit to the Solomons by an Australian foreign minister since the island nation sealed a security pact in April with China, sparking alarm in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The agreement has not been made public, but a leaked draft showed it would allow Chinese naval deployments to the island, which lies less than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) from Australia. China and Solomon Islands have each dismissed fears among the United States and its allies that it could lead to the construction of a Chinese military base.

Newsline: U.S. envoy to China expects ‘zero COVID’ policy to persist into 2023

The United States’ ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, said he expects Beijing’s “zero COVID” policy to persist into early 2023, and that U.S. businesses were reluctant to invest in the country until restrictions ease. “I think we’re going to have to live with this for a long time,” Burns told an online Brookings Institution event. “My own assumption is that we’ll see the continuation of ‘zero COVID’ probably into the beginning months of 2023. That’s what the Chinese government is signaling,” Burns said, referring to China’s policy of seeking to stamp out each cluster of new cases, often with strict lockdowns and mass testing. (https://finance.yahoo.com/news/u-envoy-china-expects-zero-153059695.html) Burns criticized Beijing for censoring on Chinese social media Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s May speech on U.S. policy toward China, in which he said Washington expected Beijing to adhere to international rules. “We put the speech on Weibo, and WeChat. And it was censored in about two and a half hours. Just taken away,” Burns said, adding that the Embassy reposted it days later and it was again removed.